The Good, The Bad and the Righteous
A Fistful of Meeples Review of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Wrath of the Righteous Base Set.
Wrath of the Righteous is the 3rd Adventure Path (AP from hereon in) in Paizo’s highly successful Adventure Card Game. This review is written based on the assumption that you already know the basic principles of how the game works – if not, see the game overview here.
Having tackled a typical fantasy adventure full of Goblins, Dragons and Giants and then spent a season Swashbuckling on the High Seas as Pirates, Wrath of the Righteous transports the players to an area of Golarion known as The Worldwound, where they will go on Crusades against armies of Demons. What could possibly go wrong?
At its most basic level, the Base Set looks a lot like the other adventures – it comes with 7 characters (a further 4 are available in the character add-on pack), a set of low-level boons and banes for introductory adventures, along with the first few locations, and the adventure/scenario cards for a basic adventure before players launch themselves into the Adventure Path proper.
There are some distinctly new elements though, and these are the first things I want to look at today:
Cohorts are a new thing for this AP – these are mostly people or other creatures, and a lot of them tend to function a lot like allies – although often fairly powerful ones. There are however, some differences: for a start, cohorts are added to your hand after you draw your starting hand, meaning that 1.) you need to get a card out of your hand on turn one and, 2.) you’ll always get it as well as your favoured card type, so you don’t have to worry about it sitting in your deck and never appearing, or worse – having that in your starting hand, but no weapon/spell.
It’s also worth noticing that whilst cohorts may be linked to a character that you are playing, or to the current scenario, once they are banished though, they’re gone – unlike those allies you’ve failed to acquire five times and got at the sixth attempt, or banished to close a location, once this cohort is gone, it’s gone (although note that there is a difference between “banish” and “return to the box” as can be seen in the power of one cohort in the base adventure.)
Mythic Paths and Charges
The second major new thing you’ll find in your Wrath box is actually a bit of a tease – much-hyped before the game’s release, with the promise of getting to roll a D20, these are the Mythic Path cards and Mythic Charges…
…which players will only get to use in anger once they reach adventure 2! – as a result, I’m going to leave discussion of them until I review Adventure 2.
One obvious thing that seasoned Pathfinder ACG players will notice is the art upgrade- there are still cards, both boons and banes returning for a third appearance, but these have generally been given new art, and I certainly prefer the new style: I think it’s generally an improvement, with a more detailed style of illustration. The addition of some flavour text, albeit brief, that has been added to some of the standard monsters helps to keep things fresh too.
There are also characters and play-styles that feel fresh here. The introduction of mounts to allow characters to move around, as well as weapons like Lance that can combine with these mounts to give you bonuses on your first combat of the turn add a new dimension, and some of the new blessings like Baphomet also add a dimension to the decision on when to explore again.
In terms of the base-level scenarios themselves, this feels nice and coherent – in Skull and Shackles the move from the base scenario to the first adventure of the AP proper didn’t really make sense, whereas this seems to merge quite nicely.
The mixture of old and new cards is also good – there are some new spells/weapons etc, and in a major departure from previous adventure paths, a different basic blessing. It’s probably a matter of debate whether the Blessing of Ascension is as good as the Blessing of the gods – it is not auto-acquire for the first adventure or two, and it doesn’t allow you to mirror the powers of cards on the discard pile – but the basic principal of varying things up like this is nice.
Corrupted cards also add a new dimension to play, with the prospect that some of these will be redeemable later: the general principal seems to be that these cards are situationally more powerful, but may well have some kind of cost attached to playing them.
The designers have also clearly put a lot of thought in to how they can provide more variety in a game without massively upping the overall cardboard content. A good way of doing this, is through the new Servitor Demon: Various cards in the game will tell you to summon and encounter the current adventure’s servitor demon. However, depending on which adventure you are currently in, the servitor demon will be a different henchman. In a single step, using only 7 cards across the whole adventure path, they’ve given locations and the like which will present different challenges at different times –
There has been a lot of discussion over on the Paizo forums about the difficulty level of the Wrath Basic-level adventure, compared with the previous boxes.
I think it’s beyond question that the difficulty here is much greater than in Rise of the Runelords, and – at least with larger parties – it seems to also be harder than Skull and Shackles. Obviously increased difficulty in a game isn’t automatically a bad thing, but I side with those who think that the level B adventure here has gone too far – despite serving for many players as an introduction to a new game, this is (in many respects) harder than adventure 1 is, despite the lack of the levelled up boons with which to fight.
Amongst the cards most often singled out for complaint are the barrier Arboreal Blight and the scenario Elven Entanglement – just a few thoughts on each of them.
Arboreal Blight is a type of barrier familiar to most veteran players of PACG, which causes each player to summon and encounter a monster – it also requires each of the summoning characters to defeat it, or else the barrier is getting shuffled back in to the location. So far, nothing new.
The big difference, is the question of what exactly is being summoned. At level B in Rise of the Runelords, the worst summoned monster in this type of situation would be a Skeleton – 8 difficulty, rising to 11 if you had the slashing or piercing trait.
The Fiendish Tree by contrast is a 13, so two harder than the skeleton at its most menacing. It also deals you a combat damage before and after you act. At this stage, there are only a very limited number of armours which can be revealed to fend off this damage, so even if you can pass a combat 13 without discarding a card, you’ll still find your hand 2 cards smaller by the end of the check. Realistically, a spellcaster who has to summon this tree on another character’s turn is going to start their own turn with their hand near to empty, and probably have to skip exploring.
Whilst the Arboreal Blight has been the poster child for those criticising the difficulty, it’s also worth pausing at this moment to consider the Demonic Horde. Like Arboreal Blight, Demonic Horde is a 2-copy barrier in the base set, with a third copy in the character add-on. Again, it’s a summoning barrier, pulling out the adventure’s Servitor demon this time, but rather than give you one per character, each character chose a random character to battle it, meaning that a bad run of dice could leave a single character having to fend off 3 or 4 demons. As all summoned monsters must be defeated to get rid of the barrier, this is a particularly nasty one.
The Elven Entanglement is a scenario that occurs midway through the level-B adventure, and for large groups, it is terrifying. The first, and probably the main, difficulty is that defeating a henchman doesn’t allow you to close the location. On top of that, every time you encounter an animal (typically an ally that might have allowed you to explore again), you instead have to fight another tree-based monster.
With low player counts, you can chase the villain from place to place and eventually corner him with a bit of temporary closing, but in 6-player, the odds of stumbling across the villain plummet, and you’re reduced to having to get through the best part of 80 cards in 30 turns.
It’s worth noting that, among the various suggestions appearing as to how to deal with the difficulty of this first adventure, there is the possibility to simply leave it to later – skip the Base adventure (it’s optional, although it does get you a card feat), and instead press straight on to Adventure 1.
Despite the relative length of the sections above, I like Wrath of the Righteous, and think it’s a good set. That said, I’d be cautious about recommending it as an introduction to the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, particularly for anyone who is going to be playing with a large group. I think the designers have got the difficulty wrong – no doubt reacting to the many people who claimed (unfairly I think) that Rise of the Runelords was too easy – and in particular, I worry about the scaling I’ll say more on that topic when I review adventure 2, as a rule, I think for 5 or 6 players, the game is just inaccessible, unless you’re assembling a SWAT team of expert gamers.
All of that aside; for experienced players, small groups ready to plan ahead, or anyone who’s prepared to take a few set-backs with their victories, there is still plenty of fun to be had here.
If you like Pathfinder ACG, or just like a challenge, buy this (especially if you thought Rise of the Runelords was on the easy side). If you’re new to Pathfinder ACG, and/or want a game people can just sit down to in a big group and enjoy, buy Rise of the Runelords.